Church leaders' difficult role
Like church leaders in neighboring South Africa during the struggle against apartheid, pastors in Zimbabwe have played a difficult dual role during the 28 years of Mugabe's economically ruinous and sometimes brutal rule.
When Mugabe sent his North Korean-trained 5th Brigade into the Matabeleland to quell a rebellion (killing 20,000 in the early 1980s), pastors such as Roman Catholic Bishop Pius Ncube expressed moral outrage.
As the country has entered an economic death spiral, with 100,000 percent inflation, rising unemployment, and increasing food shortages, pastors have brought a measure of comfort and encouraged resilience.
But unlike in South Africa or even in the American civil rights struggle, where church leaders were unified in a moral cause, the church in Zimbabwe has been much more fractured, with some church leaders favoring the opposition and others favoring the government.
This split voice, and the sullying of top religious voices of opposition – Bishop Ncube was recently demoted after a sex scandal – have meant that Zimbabwe's church leaders can play only a limited role in the current crisis.
"The role of the church is to provide a moral voice for individuals and a voice of hope; but in Zimbabwe, Christians are polarized," says Chris Maroleng, a Zimbabwe expert at the Institute for Security Studies in Tshwane, as Pretoria, South Africa, is now called. "Bishop Kanenge of the Anglican church supports Mugabe. The Catholic Church is much more powerful, but the allegations against [Ncube] have set it back quite a ways.